VIDEO: Psychopaths Lack This in Their Brain

The brains of psychopaths have a key difference compared to other people when presented with these two situations.

If you’re curious about how people tick or enjoy studying any of the behavioral or brain sciences, you’ll want to see this. This is wicked.

Dr. Kevin Dutton of BigThink describes two situations of life and death that involve a trolley. If a doctor were scanning your brain and a psychopath’s brain while you listened to Dutton explain, a key marker would be missing in the psychopath’s brain.

Watch the video on BigThink to hear Dutton explain in this four minute video.

About Deanna Ogle

Deanna Ogle hails from the greater Detroit area and her work has appeared in The Good Men Project, The Printed Blog, and Provoketive Magazine. She is studying journalism and religious studies, and writes at her personal blog Soul like a Spider. Loves: carnations, iced espresso, and watching movies with her husband. Find her at Twitter, Google and Facebook.


  1. I do find the advances – so fast – that are being made in neuropsychology and understanding of human behaviour quite amazing. They just keep on outstripping our capacity to use lanaguage.

    I do wish we were able to change some of the language though. People like this word Psychopath cos it’s evocative and emotional.

    It gets really interesting what happens to language when you run experiments and change the scenarios – so when you have the five people on the railway line and one of the other line it’s easy for the Utilitarian To Win Out …. but it gets far more interesting when you make it Five Men and One Woman – or add in race – colour – even socio-economic ideas – That’s 5 Hobos Vs 1 Millionaire.

    When you change the dynamics like that and even add the hot seat factor of the person acting actaully having to Kill the person/people, you get a very interesting thing happening. The people being seen as Psychopaths are less Racist – less Sexist In fact the are less Prejudiced PERIOD – and they are not emotionally driven over the issues.

    So I have to wonder at all those people who are Highly Emotional about one issue such as gender, and how that filters over into other areas? I also have to wonder who would be getting called Psychopath if the standard to use that word got shifted and analyses anew against behaviour?

    • Deanna Ogle says:

      MediaHound, you’re right, the advances are pretty amazing. It blows my mind, and sometimes make me wish I had gone to school for nueroscience instead.

      I did think about using a different word than “psychopath”, but it was (a) what the video use, and (b) I’m not sure what we could replace it with. It’s seems like it’s much more specific than mentally ill, and “crazy” is not AT ALL a good idea for a replacement word.

      Is there a word you’ve heard used that would be better? Otherwise, I will join you in wishing.

      Thanks for reading! I love seeing your comments pop up.

      • On a personal level I use a different word. Sociopath. The issues of Sociopathic – Psychopathic conduct have come up here quite a few times, but mainly around the issues of Trolls – Or as I prefer “Netopaths”. We can either be slaves to language or use it as a tool for communication. I keep collecting tools as a sort of word geek.

        Psycopath and Sociopath are to all intents and purposes interchangeable, and in the DSM debates one or even both are to vanish to be replaced with yet more verbage. The DSM 5 Antisocial Personality/Psychopath labelling system may be evidence based and supposedly clear, but the constant language shifts are confusing even for professionals.

        Psychopathology, Psychopathic have been about as clinical (?) or professional terms since 1830/40’s. and of course lets not forget Mr Freud and his Psychoanalysis as well as some quite amazing constructs such as the Oedipal and Electra complexes. (His views on Oedipal came from only studying one male child – and then only by letter from a distance – not a good basis to build a whole set of constructs of the human mind on – unscientific and even bonkers.)

        Words and how they get used, adopted and regurgitated can get very messey, and following on from a certain Shower Scene and mummy fixated motel owner, Psychopath has become commonly linked to violence. That 1959 Book and 1960 Film have done a great deal to define and control language perception and usage when ever Psycho is used – as a separate word or as a prefix from the original Latin.

        Sociopath is best described as a Socialised Psycopath. It’s not an 100% accurate description but for everyday use it works better than blanket Psychopath, and removes the arbitrary violence connection.

        If you give people info/character narrative and test results on behaviour which is Sociopath/Psychopath and give them a choice between two labels Sociopath or Psychopath the deciding factor on label is violence. Yet if you give Psycopath as a label and another Personality Disorder, if there is no violence in the profile-narrative there is a marked aversion to using psychopath … leading to incorrect identification, management and outcomes.

        The Professionals often present the idea that they are immune to such mundane, common a garden and Hoi polloi influences and only use language in very precise and technical ways …. at which point I pull out me Hare Psychopathy Checklist and start ticking boxes. It is frightening the number of Nutcases that you find in certain fields of human endeavour – and I’m not joking.

        It’s also interesting that Sociopaths and Psychopaths have become Terribly Vogue in the last 15 years or so, and if you ask researchers and those with an interests for motivation many point to certain Influences which got them interested – one being the written works of Thomas Harris. He does provide written portrayals of sociopathic and psychoapthic interactions which are amazing in detail and accuracy, even if a little Dramaticized to allow a dramatic narrative. His first book is of course the best and rightly regarded as a masterpiece. P^)

        Kevin Dutton is playing with a great deal when he uses Psychopath – it is correctly used in a professional sense, but it is clear the linguistic and socialised prejudices are being played with to media and advertising purposes.

        He reiterates the five man experiment which has been done before – and there was a brilliant example of it shown on the BBC Horizon Program “Are You Born Good or Evil?”. It’s interesting to watch people think about who to kill – it’s very interesting to watch then deal with that idea in a Virtual Reality World when they are suddenly confronted with it in a very real way. Here’s the Footage.

        In also love the Psycho Babies – Two and Three year olds … who would have thought that up to 30% of babies were Psychopathic?

        The full program was on Youtube but alas no more – but this page at the BBC does show the psycho babies in all their glory! Imagine as a parent agreeing to have your kids in an experiment and when you come out you have a Psychopath in Huggies demanding Formula – it gives a whole new meaning to the Terrible Twos and those Supermarket Tantrums.

        The work of James Fallon, neuroscientist at the University of California-Irvine – it’s an eye opener, and it’s been ongoing for over 20 years. The linked genetics work is equally fascinating. He has a personal interest. Lizzy Borden is his direct ancestor.

        There is of course the growing body of evidence that Sociopathic/Psychopathic people are not just mad or bad. They have specific inherited genetic traits which can be activated or made more prominent by environmental experience. A great deal of evidence shows that experience prior to age 8 is the biggest factor – and exposure to violence/abuse, that is domestic abuse and possible sexual abuse/emotional abuse and violence is a major environmental driver on producing what would be seen as an adult Sociopath or Psychopath.

        That is why in many countries if there is an abuse situation especially domestic abuse it no longer matters what the adult wants (Please Don’t Press Charges) law enforcement acts and does prosecute. It’s for the long term interests of the child – the adults can do what the hell they like – and they so often do !

        As we delve further into the brain and find more structure and operation there will be more language that emerges. Of course, as has been found, certain brain patterns can be linked to what has become viewed as pathology – so I look at the work of James Fallon and prefer to think of a “Fallonesque” or “Fallon Dynamic” Brain.

        The two things that are certain in all of this are, first the knowledge in and around the subject will continue to explode and second, the language used will keep evolving too.

        There are also some rather interesting racial and cultural issues that need to be explored – because whilst that Psycho Media Driven tag has had a most negative effect in the Western and mainly Anglophone Universe, it just does not apply to other cultural-linguistic groups. … and then how that plays out in the areas of genetics gets even more multidimensional.

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